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BY SIR NATHANIEL. No. VII.-HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW. The juste milieu it may be hard for critical appraisers to hit. But, between two extremes, to hint with Sir Roger that much may be said on both sides, is easy enough ; and, to indolent or incompetent judges, an agreeable observance of the maxim, In medio tutissimus ibis. Our own indolence, or incompetence, disposes us to steer in this middle course in a notice of the works of Professor Longfellow. Mr. Coventry Patmore may assure us he is hugely overrated, and Mr. George Gilfillan may assert that his reputation is hitherto only nascent, and his depth but partly fathomed. Benignly regarding the adverse factions, we accept neither allegation to the full, and pronounce neither a true bill (in the sense of speaking the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), and by adding to and diminishing from both, and putting this and that together, and letting the negative signs of the one cancel the plus signs of the other, we do our best to sustain a judicial centre of gravity, and to work out an equation of terms, a composition of forces. A month or two ago, we were taken to task in a contemporary journal for implying, in what the writer was pleased to call (and we equally pleased to recognise) our “ strange admiration of Wordsworth," that Professor Longfellow was not a poet of the same calibre as the Bard of Rydal. For the life of us we cannot understand how any one admiring Wordsworth at all, could put the professor in competition with him :-assuredly the professor himself would shrink from the comparison. On the other hand, we avow a most cordial and lively admiration of the author of the “ Golden Legend" and “ Evangeline,” of the noble Excelsior strains, that stir even stagnant souls as with the sound of a trumpet-echoes of silver trumpets heard from the battlement of a Temple not made with bands,--and of the « Psalm of Life," so invigorating, elevating, and seasonable,—and of the “ Voices of the Night,” so sweetly solemn, so tender and true. God bless the minstrel of verses like these, and increase his influence a hundred-fold ! This benediction is sincere, and worth whole chapters of criticism—such as we could write.
Professor Longfellow's poems have been described as “ rather golden recollections than present vision”- giving us the “ elegiac words, and tender mien, and mellow music," which record some loved memory of bygone youth, than the “poet's outcry at things seen,” or the poet's gesture significant of words he may not utter-appnta onuara, á óuk étov åvpwna danoa. But he sings emphatically with a purpose, and a high one. He is, to adapt Tennyson's words, one
- bravely furnish'd all abroad to fling
The winged shafts of truth,
Of hope and youth. Like Wordsworth's Wanderer, he is rich in love and sweet humanity;" and like Wordsworth himself, he would, by excelsior! strains, and psalms
of life," and voices of the night, hasten the coming of a holier, happier age, and
- long before that blissful hour arrives,
To noble raptures. At the same time, he is gay and sprightly in his movements ; some of his verses are almost frivolous in tone and finical in form ; he plays with his theme, when so disposed, and seasons his compositions with liberal spicery of quaint phantasien and scholarly concetti. He may be said to have two publics - one which comes for strong meat, to strengthen and sustain-another, for “ trile” and confectionery, to tickle an epicurean palate.
In simile-making, Mr. Longfellow is au fait. Like Cocker, he is a “dab at figures.” Figurative he loves to be, sometimes at too great an expense. His similes do not, indeed, arise with the impetuous unrest, the exhaustless creativeness of Alexander Smith and others,—nor are they so “rich” in quality, though in quantity more “rare.” But they are plenteous enough to make some readers account simile-making his forte, while quaint enough occasionally to make others call it his foible. Often sweet and significant, they are not unfrequently forced and farfetched. Take the following excerpts, metaphorical and figurative, in illustration of the poet's manner :
The day is done; and slowly from the scene
Changing her name and being $
Runs the river, white with foam,
The body of St. Catherine, borne by angels! 1
Ibid. in Ibid.'
While I speak,
And lays his hand upon thy cheek l*
Nature with folded hands seemed there,
Kneeling at her evening prayer.t
Some, like stars, to tell us Spring is born;
Stand like Ruth amid the golden corn.
And silver white the river gleams,
Had dropped her silver bow
Upon the meadows low.
Bent, like a labouring oar, that toils in the surf of the ocean,
Veild the light of his face, like the prophet descending from Sinai.If Out of the prairie grass, the long white horns of the cattle “rise like the flakes of foam on the adverse currents of ocean.” Stars are “ the thoughts of God in the heavens.” Bears are “the anchorite monks of the desert.” Swinging from the great arms of a cedar-tree,
- the trumpet-flower and the grape-vine
That the Angel of Death might see the sign, and pass over.$$
This penchant for Scripture similitudes would have made the poet dear, two centuries ago, to the lovers of Donne and George Herbert, whatever we, now-a-days, may think of such concetti. But it is time to pass from particulars to generals. And first of the so-called American “Faust.”
Drama the “Golden Legend” is not; dramatic poem, hardly. More fitly than Tennyson's longest work, it might be styled a “Medley." Whoso swears by the Unities, and abhors Teutonic romanticisms, and * Golden Legend, vi.
† Prelude to Voices of the Night, I Voices of the Night.
| Evangeline, ii. Ibid, iii. ** Ibid. tt Ibid. 1 Ibid. iv. SS Ibid.
prefers the prim proprieties of classical common-place to rough diamonds of the first water, will hold in supreme dislike this mediaeval mosaic. He will complain that what spinal column it has is crooked and out of joint, and that on a frail incompetent skeleton are huddled, in most admired disorder, vestments the most incongruous, as though motley were the only wear. Spirits more genial and germane will take the Legend for such as it is, and, admitting the presence of alloy, will call it Golden in the grumbler's teeth. How a pure and simple-hearted maiden gives up her life to save the life of a selfish, sere-hearted prince, makes perhaps a scanty libretto; but the composer has inwoven it with a profusion of accompaniments, variations, quaint melodies, and descriptive harmonies. The most unheroic hero, Prince Henry, however disagreeable (and so far prejudicial to the success of the poem), is portrayed with artful excellence-a mind oscillating, unsteadfast, and that cannot find its centre of rest and harmony-one who is fain to purchase length of days by the death, not of sweet Elsie alone, but of all that's good and true and noble in himself, all manhood, self-respect, love, faith, hope, heart. Him the Devil is content to let live, to corrupt his race,
Breathing among them with every breath,
And pusillanimous fear of death. One scarcely likes to see his highness walk off, at the exeunt omnes, with the martyr-maiden, in clinging confidence, under his arm, although she is to be the Lady Alicia (quite a decadence from Elsie), and he a respectable pater familias. Nevertheless, there are such touches of nature in this portraiture, that a humiliating sense of kin should not make us less than kind ; and we own to a decided and sustained interest in the distraught prince. Elsie is a vision of delight-a ministering angel - who shall say, not too bright or good for human nature's daily food ?-a guileless, earnest creature, inspired by a conviction that " at Salerno, far away, over the mountains, over the sea, it is appointed her to die”-and who hears in the summons a voice not harsh or grating, but soothing music, as though the Spirit and the Bride said, “Come,”—so that she is athirst to come, at the bidding of God and Mary Mother, and would fain come quickly. How beautiful her child-logic about death, when her parents warn her against rashly acquainting herself with what she knows not of !
'Tis the cessation of our breath.
And no one knoweth more than thisand then recalling a little sister's death-bed--and how the quiet corpse lay there more beautiful than before-and how the test of death was that “ like violets faded were her eyes”—and how the skies looked sunnily in through the open window, "and the wind was like the sound of wings, as if angels came to bear her away ;" and so she passes on to cheer her mother with the suggestion, in the event she persistently anticipates,
And it will seem no more to thee
Than I am used ;more touching still than which is the mother's outburst of feeling in reply
Even as thou sayest,
What, then, if thou wert dead ?* Most sweetly, too, the maiden consoles her attendants, in the instant contemplation of death, with the words,
I shall not feel the pain, but shall be gone,
Through which I pass. I see what lies beyond it. And so she bids her friends to have her in pleasant remembrance-to let her memory linger as something not to trouble and disturb, but to soothe and gladden—that if at times beside the evening fire they see her face among the other faces, it may not be regarded as a ghost that haunts the house, but as a guest that loves then-nay, even as one of their own family, without whose presence there were something wanting.
If Elsie and her history are full of pathos, there is a man-of-all-work in humour and almost farcical comedy in the person of—Lucifer! How art thou fallen, son of the morning! to be so void of dignity, so bereft of the tragic element, so shorn of the awful and the mysterious, as in this Mephistophelean merry-andrew. So sharp and caustic, so shrewd and versatile, so mercurial and jocose, so flippant and gaillard even, seems this Gentleman in Black, that we tacitly ignore his antecedents, and the bad character he is supposed to have from his last place. He seems innocent of sulphur. Horns, like growing pains, he has outgrown. That vestige of his natural history, the tail, is unobtrusive. We care not, in so jovial and débonnaire a presence, to “look down towards his feet,"
--for that's a fable." Altogether, he disarms apprehension, and though by no means transformed into an angel of light, he manages to make himself acceptable in most companies. His look would hardly have inspired Goethe's Margaret with the aversion she felt at the aspect of Faust's patron. There is a story of a Scottish pastor saying to an aged female parishioner, “I trust, Luckie, that you fear the Lord:"to which the crone's candid reply was, “ 'Deed, sir, and I'll no say muckle o'that ; but I'm unco' feared for the deil.” Had she known him as impersonated in the “Golden Legend,” probably this fear also had vanished. Seriously, the Lucifer of Mr. Longfellow's poem is calculated to dispel whatever remnant of dread may still attach to popular conceptions of the Evil One. Mephistopheles was a strange and significant decline from the Miltonic Satan, but Mephistopheles is grave, tragic, dignified, beside the humorist of this legend, who jests as mirthfully solus as when bent on entertaining others. For he is nothing if not comical.
There is a spice too much, again, of the flippant and irreverent, not to say the coarse and profane, in such descriptions as that of the Miracle Play at Strasburg, and the drinking-scene in the refectory. Not that the details are overcharged in point of historical truthfulness, but that they are somewhat too broadly given in a work of art. The smartness and quick sense of the ludicrous with which they are “shown up," are, nevertheless, so undeniable, and realise so amusingly the ways of the : * So Wordsworth :-"Absence and death how differ they!"- Maternal Grief.